Building Sustainable Legacies


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Question-based learning

The secret to uncover solutions that leap-frog above and beyond current practices is the ability to ask pertinent questions. Enabling students to ask good questions is the higher purpose of teaching and represents an essential factor of successfully educating leaders to embrace problems we don’t yet know and come up with solutions that don’t yet exist based on technologies that have not yet been invented. An intended side effect of question-based learning is the increase in a student’s ability to hold the tension of not knowing answers and the ability to live with half-truths, partial answers without shying away from courageously taking a step in what appears to be the right direction given what is known at that time. Acting – reflecting – correcting – and acting again will be the future dance of our leaders. It may be called “stumbling forward”[1], a not so elegant yet courageous engagement towards the world.

The key benefit of question-based learning is the development of liberal learning. The 2011 Carnegie Foundation report on undergraduate business education in the United States demands from business education an integration with liberal learning, in order for students to:

a)       Make sense of the world and their place in it,

b)       Prepare students to use knowledge and skills as means toward responsible engagement with the world, and

c)       Instill students a sense of responsibility for the Common Good, guided by commitment & values.

This is achieved by a) analytical thinking, b) multiple framing, c) reflective exploration of meaning, and d) practical reasoning.

Reflection and awareness  in a world becoming more complex, more unpredictable, more challenging, means getting rid of unilateral thinking, conventional ideology, and reductionist vision of the raison d’être of the firm. – Philippe de Woot

Un-covering assumptions that shape the way we look at the world is a critical step to be able to start forming one’s own opinion about what feels right. Another element of this approach is the inherent possibility to render conscious the many currently undeclared assumptions of the oppressing current economic thinking, opening the opportunity to discuss alternative avenues. Some of these assumptions are:

  • Growth and consumerism as the unquestioned answer to economic downturns and crises since the 1960s. Despite that fact that growth has driven us to a state in which we use 1.5 planets to cover our current needs.
  • The contribution of business to society is measured by the return on shareholder equity limiting the purpose of business to maximizing shareholder value,
  • For the longest time, goods of Mother Nature have been free of charge (fish stock, forests, water, commodities, etc.) with capital only being required for the exploitation and often the destruction of these resources. Governments of emerging countries have started to lease or sell entire regions (valleys, glaciers, frost land) to companies to exploit the inherent natural resources that often took millennia to develop.


[1] This term was developed by Katrin Muff in the case study of Business School Lausanne with Prof. Dr. J.B. Kassarjian of Babson College (2008-2010).

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Kicking off Collaboratories in Asia – Towards “Green Living in Hong Kong”

Riding up the elevator of the brand new building of the Design Faculty at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sets the stage: 4th floor Collaboratoy, 8th floor Innovation Think Tank. I haven’t seen the use of “Collaboratory” formally used to designate an entire floor of a building! We must be in the right space! Clearly Cees de Bont from the Design Faculty and Alison Llyod from the Business School are not only an experienced but also a very creative and effective team. Everything was set for a memorable first Collaboratory event in Asia!

Cees’ design students have worked over the past weeks to create more than half a dozen of benches made out of recycled or repurposed material. Special acknowledgment goes to Claudius Bensch, Art Director of the project, for developing the original Bench Circle installation concept. As we walked into the space, our jaws dropped at the sight of these benches! True beauty and an astounding variety! Each bench was designed by a known designer and produced by design students. Here is a short time-laps film that shows them at work:

Allison’s business students had masterfully arranged the space into the signature inner circle held by two rows of outer circle chairs. They had helped to mobilize the key stakeholders for the event and ensured that all concerned parties in Hong Kong concerned by “Green Living in Hong Kong” were not only present but had been briefed in great detail on what to expect. An energized group of approx. 50 engaged citizens, representatives of business, consulting, real estate, NGO, social entrepreneurship as well as various relevant faculty members and students was curious to see what would happen next. Everything was set for an intense 3 hours of co-creation!

The first hour served to lay out all the different perspectives on the topic of what Green Living in Hong Kong might mean, why it was possible, impossible, covering current important issues such as air pollution and the impact of the increasing inequality, the high dependency on the “Hong Kong shopping center”, the dramatically negative impact of the recent frugality strategy of the Chinese and the sky-high real estate prices that drove social entrepreneurs out of town. Yet, the fact that 40% of the land was labelled as national parks and only 30% of the surface was actually built, opened up a discussion around the potential of Hong Kong with its 70+ islands, beaches and many hills and hiking trails for every level of difficulty. We heard stories of permaculture, roof-top gardens, and the need to go beyond organic food to radically re-localize food (the footprint of organic food not being sufficient to balance population growth). A young social entrepreneur shared his initiative of in-house gardening and tourist operator a dream around eco-tourism. The elevator was introduced as a highly sustainable solution to save land (vertical city) and elegantly delegating the cost of mobility infrastructure from government to private investors (well, that’s the real-estator’s perspective). The idea that if green choices need to come more attractive (adding a price on unsustainable living), they would take off. The question of how design can help advance green living in HK. The dilemma of the importance of education and the fact that it takes too long to produce results. The businessman’s pragmatic perspective: “how much are we willing to pay to make Green Living a reality?” countered by the psychologist who believes that it is all a question of behavioral change. One sentiment expressed the rather upbeat sense of the discussion best: “If there’s anybody who can do it, it is Hong Kong!”, this despite the fact that a concerned voice reminded us that returning to a simple living also implied consuming less and that companies would need to radically reinvent themselves. A final voice made a historical comparison, reminding us that in 1972 the Hong Kong government campaigned against corruption which was considered mission impossible and today in Hong Kong corruption was largely gone. So why not campaign against unsustainable living? Well…

After a break, we shifted into the visioning phase of the process and went on a journey where we collectively dreamt up a Hong Kong that had realized Green Living. The traditional sharing round among all participants was among the richest I have experienced today: a new vision for Hong Kong came alive! A vision where Hong Kong would adopt Singapore’s positioning as an education hub to become Asia’s Sustainability or Green Living Hub. Conscious of the fact that Hong Kong in many ways plays a role model function for many cities and people of mainland China, the power of such a transformative change was palpable. Descriptions of such a future vision of Hong Kong included clean air and blue skies, a slower pace and fresh vegetables at hand anywhere to eat. Shopping as a way to secure happiness was replaced by more profound offers that would lead to a more sustainable well-being and happiness. People would come to Hong Kong to “slow up”, to recharge, re-energize and to co-create and develop great ideas.

In the final third phase of the Collaboratory, we asked the question: so what can we concretely do in the next 2-3 months to make steps towards this utopian future. To enable this, we transformed the center space into an entrepreneurial brainstorming space: at least 20 ideas were developed and any last signs of Asian shyness disappeared. The spark of a shared and embodied vision had triggered not only enthusiasm but also creativity. I was challenged to summarize and group the many ideas into 8 main prototypes of which each participant would choose one he or she wanted to spend the last hour of the Collaboratory exploring. We initially thought to vote the best 4 of these 8 ideas but there was enough energy for all of them that we split the circle into 8 sub-circles and empowered each group to self-organize and further develop their ideas. After 40 minutes each team was ready with a solid prototype idea and had identified one responsible person among them who was willing to carry-forward the project until Alison and Cees would decide on how to proceed with a next Collaboratory event to further develop if not all, at least some of them.

Here is an overview of all the ideas:

  • Introducing positive discrimination coupled with transparency to enable green organizations to perform better and attract the talent and to individuals to the incentive to change behavior. A radical shift requires radical support including the development of broader well-being measures on the macro and micro economic levels (lead: Shrikant Ramakrishnan, four members)
  • Eco-tourism: slow up in Hong Kong and relax into great ideas! Various steps needed: a) turning the city green (greening the roofs), accessible hiking trails for all levels, transforming hospital into wellness clinics, turning public spaces into oasis, taking the noise out, developing eco-tourism in the islands, etc. (lead: Stella Kwan, four members)
  • Transforming universities into practical learning centers in society, by reducing the current disconnect particularly in CSR, changing the pedagogy to include in-company learning, integrating self-realization as an integral part of learning (lead: Alison Lloyd, nine members)
  • Fostering cross-sectional stakeholder dialogue through collaboratory discussions: not a solution in itself but an enabler to contribute to a new mind frame and to rally for a common vision (lead: Philo Alto, two members)
  • Copy-cating the best green solutions and branding for massive globe scaling, by applying a rigorous process of a) what is the problem), b) who is the leader in the world to solve this, c) how can we adapt to Hong Kong, d) how can we brand to enable scaling, e) how do we commercialize globally – example: Starbucks vertical farming wall (lead: Lydia Guett, six members)
  • Developing a sharing culture towards a new governing model by bringing in relevant ideas to Hong Kong and by working with students as activists and promoting a culture of sharing, e.g. electronics (lead: Ming Ho, three members)
  • Becoming a personal role model first and then contribute to the sharing culture (see 4), supported by government actions such as theme Sundays to re-develop relationships at all levels as they used to be (lead: Match Chen, six members)
  • Developing a new mind frame: business needs new managers and leaders, current people in charge can’t lead the transformation, a higher consciousness is needed, achieving this by a significant focus on personal health for every employee at all levels (top particularly) since a better life will result in a better business as it triggers a shift in focus; also: embracing the consumer-side of the people by initiating new consumer demands which will result in new business opportunities (lead: Eric Chu, 2 members)

Cees and Alison have expressed an interest to integrate the first three into their current project development structures which are available in both Faculties. Furthermore, the PolyU business school has platforms on which other prototypes could be further developed. Both of them will communicate with everybody involved in the Collaboratory shortly to ensure that these prototype will start to be realized where possible and where the teams feel energized to further work on them.

IMG_1975

Walking into the Silverbox Conference room at the ICON hotel in Hong Kong the next day felt VERY similar to walking into the UN RIO+20 PRME Business Education conference back in June 2012 when we launched the 50+20 agenda: 3 benches were lined up as I walked off the elevator towards the registration desk and the back of the room was displaying with 6 more benches. Awesome! It is amazing what kind of difference some real art can make. More on the conference: http://www.bsl-lausanne.ch/news/school-news/events-and-conferences/bsls-dean-gives-keynote-speech-at-conference-on-renewing-business-education-in-asia


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Breaking Down the Wall Between Academia and Practice

Our current scientific heritage has driven us to fractionate knowledge and a deepened understanding within specific areas or disciplines. It has also led us to a society and organizations structured by functions rather than issues or challenges. For any school of the future it will be of fundamental importance to break these man-made and inherited barriers between interdependent and interconnected areas of knowledge and of society.

In order to effectively develop future-relevant research and establish the basis for practice-relevant education, the management school of the future will tear down the currently existing, yet unnecessary, walls between business and management practitioners and researchers. New research and educational priorities will demand the removal of current barriers between academics and practitioners, allowing free movement in both directions, e.g.:

  • A professor takes 2-years off [1] to work in a start-up in Somalia, or
  • An entrepreneur spends a 2-year executives-in-residence [2] sabbatical to digest and distill his professional experience

Business leaders, entrepreneurs, directors of NGOs, consultants and activists will be encouraged to join the management school for one or more years to digest and distill their experience as research from the work place.

More than anything, the management school of the future needs a comprehensive mix of educators and researchers with a wealth of experiences and backgrounds. Moving back and forth between reflective work at a management school and work in the action frontier of business and other organizational work is a critical success factor of ensuring high relevance of the faculty in their role as lead-learners in the educational and research process.


[1]           Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

[2]            IMD, Lausanne


Designing a university for the new millennium

Here is an inspiring model of desining a university for the new millennium.

The model described here has no silos (i.e. no departments), a circular building,  no faculty ranks, same teaching load for all, no lecturing or professing – only tutoring, classrooms built for roundtable discussions, curriculum setup to promote trans-disciplinary, question-driven and experiential learning etc. etc.

 

Following 35 years on the faculty of Columbia University in New York, more than half of that time as Chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Dr. Helfand developed a deep understanding of the problems of traditional universities. Seizing an opportunity to redesign higher education from scratch, he has served as a Founding Tutor and, since 2008, as President and Vice Chancellor of Quest University Canada. He is also President of the American Astronomical Society, the professional society for astronomers, astrophysicists, planetary scientists and solar physicists in North America.


More critical voices on business education

Here’s an article in Bloomberg Businessweek that reflects greatly the many critical voices on business education, increasingly also from the mainstream business schools:

Is B-School Research an Expensive Waste?

Larry Zicklin, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a lecturer at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, says B-schools should put less emphasis on research, and students shouldn’t be footing the bill. Read More…


Big news in our small business school world: Sustainability moves up the agenda at business schools

Big news in our small business school world:

GRLI who hosts 50+20 becomes the armed wing of EFMD and AACSB to implement sustainability and responsibility in business schools:

FT.com featured this morning the announcement about EFMD / AACSB  supporting GRLI at:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/c87ed4a6-920d-11e2-851f-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2NsVrLm63


The GRLI Announces a Strategic Alliance with EFMD and AACSB International

Excited to share the GRLI announcement about a strategic alliance with EFMD and AACSB International:

The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) has entered into a long-term strategic partnership with EFMD and AACSB International (AACSB).

The agreement will see two of the most influential global voices in management education working closely with us going forward. The formal announcement notes that AACSB and EFMD will partner with our GRLI network of forward thinking companies and business schools to focus on an important message: that business and business schools need to work collectively to devote greater attention to developing responsible companies and leaders in the future.

This is exciting news for both our agenda and for us as a global partnership. Over the past nine years we have learnt a great deal about catalysing change in the complex interface between management education, business and society. This move creates a platform on which we can transform success into significance as we work to scale our impact in partnership with EFMD and AACSB International.

Commenting on the agreement, Eric Cornuel, Director General and CEO of EFMD said “The GRLI, which we co-founded with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) in 2004, plays an important role already in providing direction, support, and visibility to what business schools are doing to foster responsibility and sustainability. However while there has been some initial success, much more remains to be accomplished. GRLI will become the armed wing of our shared ambitions at EFMD and AACSB to accelerate change.”

AACSB International President and CEO John Fernandes said: “In recent years, the role of business as a sustainable and socially responsible enterprise has risen consistent with the world’s demand for accountability. Through our accreditations and services, AACSB and EFMD are important stakeholders in addressing society’s objectives of sustainability, social responsibility and ethical leadership. This move increases the intensity of our focus in this area, and will enable both organisations to serve our members more fully as they seek to address the challenges of 21st century management education.”

To reinforce our intent to make this partnership operate at the highest level, EFMD and AACSB will join GRLI’s current Board of Directors, by each appointing two representatives that will participate in governing decisions. The two organizations will also provide financial support to bolster our capacity to achieve our mission.

Detailed discussions will take place amongst the three organisations over the coming months to turn the agreement into a practical programme. This will include making knowledge and expertise developed by the GRLI accessible to EFMD and AACSB members, as well as participation in GRLI’s pipeline of projects and its various international events.

This is an exciting time for the GRLI and confirms our role as an influential catalyst for deep transformation at the interface between business, management education and society.